Filling Your Child’s Emotional Bank Account

By FCPS & Fairfax County Government
Healthy Minds
January 23, 2023

When we put money aside and make deposits into a bank account, we’re saving. This builds up a balance of cash reserves to use during times of withdrawals. Think of your emotions like that bank account. The amount of funds in your emotional bank account reflects the amount of trust that's been built up in a relationship.

Emotional Deposits Build Trust and Security

Every time we interact positively, treating another person with courtesy, dignity, kindness, compassion, honesty, and integrity, it makes a deposit into their emotional bank account. You build up a balance and they trust you more.

You develop a feeling of security with another person by making constant predictable deposits in each other’s emotional bank accounts. If you make mistakes that hurt the other person, like losing your temper, those occasional withdrawals from the account are offset by the positive balance.

When the trust level in the account is high, communication is easier and more effective. Your communication may not always be clear, but that person will generally assume you mean well. When a relationship is full of deposits it is easier to do for others or have others do for us.

Emotional Withdrawals Break Trust

The opposite is true if you have a habit of showing rudeness, disrespect, interrupting, overreacting, ignoring, lying, and threatening. Overwhelmingly displaying these negative behaviors will eventually lead to overdrawing an emotional bank account. The trust level gets very low.

You have to be very careful of everything you say. There‘s a lot of tension in the relationship or some might say that you have to walk on eggshells around the other person.

When the emotional bank account is in the negative because of spending all the goodwill, it’s harder to care for others or rely on them to do something for us. Just think about how you would feel if your child forgot to take out the trash for the third time in a row. If your trust account is low, then you would likely feel less forgiving of their actions.

Experiences Impact Our Relationship Expectations

Everyone has things that make them feel positive, safe, close, or connected to another person. If we know a person’s love language we can more effectively make deposits with that person. Also, there are things that annoy us, hurt our feelings, or make us feel distant or disconnected from another person. As a result, we have a different emotional bank account for each significant relationship in our life.

Relationship deposits take time and consistency. A strong history of healthy relationships may create hope and trust with our relationships. While a strong history of unhealthy relationships may create distrust and fear with our relationships. We must be committed to caring and showing acts of compassion to create healthy relationships and break cycles of unhealthy ones.

Practice Putting These Principles into Action

Talk with your child and explain the concept of emotional bank account deposits and withdrawals. Ask your child to share examples of deposits and withdrawals in your relationship. You might be surprised at what matters to your child.

Together, you can write down things that each of you do that deposit and withdraw from each other’s relationship emotional bank account. Deposits and withdrawals are different for each person. Having this conversation with your child can be very empowering for them, and lead to more transparency and greater understanding and fulfillment for both of you.


The Fairfax County Department of Family Services Parenting Education Programs offers many learning opportunities for parents. Join them for more information about positive and effective ways parents can interact with their children at every age and stage of development. 

This post was originally published as part of the Fairfax County Department of Family Services' Community Corner, where you’ll find timely information about upcoming events, parenting and wellness tips, programs and services, and more! Share these helpful posts with your friends and family. Don't miss out on future postings! Sign up today! This post is based on materials in the NFI-19™ - Facilitator Manual. Copyright 2021© by Sonya M. Thorn MSOL, LCSW. Distributed under license by Praxis with Integrity Consulting PLLC.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis, text HOME to 741741 to reach a crisis counselor, call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 911.

The Healthy Minds Blog shares information related to youth mental health and wellness for an audience of parent, educators and community-based providers. Articles include tips and strategies for increasing wellness and resiliency, as well as fostering success at home, at school and in the community.

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